Juicing was once considered the best way to treat stomach ulcers. For many people who have ulcers of the stomach or small intestine, it still is.
What Is Peptic Ulcer Disease?
Peptic ulcers disease is a condition of inflammation and compromise of the lining of the stomach or the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. The term covers ulceration of both organs because it is difficult to tell the difference between gastric (stomach) ulcers and duodenal ulcers by physical symptoms alone.
A peptic ulcer is a defect in the mucus-secreting lining of the stomach or duodenum. The linings of the stomach and first part of the small intestine secrete mucus when they are irritated, or when they receive stimulation from the vagus nerve. The mucus they secrete is impermeable to stomach acid and digestive enzymes, keeping the stomach from digesting itself. This mucus protects cells that release bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid before the contents of the stomach enter the small intestine, and they also protect the small intestine from the effects of acid in digested food that was not properly neutralized before it left the stomach. When the mucus-producing membrane is not fully functional, stomach acid can eat holes, or ulcers, in the lining of the stomach or upper small intestine.
What can cause the mucus membrane to fail?
One common cause of stomach ulceration is overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin. The higher the doses of NSAIDs, the worse the damage to the lining of the stomach and duodenum. The more years these medications are taken on a regular basis, the worse the damage to the lining of the stomach and duodenum. Women are at greater risk for damage to the stomach and duodenum caused by NSAIDs than men, and the effects of NSAIDs are greater after the age of 65.
Another common cause of stomach ulceration is infection with a kind of bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori. Helicobacter have a spiral shape that enables them to “dig into” the lining of stomach. They secrete alkali that protect them from being dissolved with food, in effect lowering the amount of acid in the stomach and interfering with the digestion of food. People who have peptic ulcer disease actually have lower amounts of stomach acid than people who do not.
“Stress” also contributes to peptic ulcer disease. The secretion of stomach acid is stimulated by the vagus nerve, a exceptionally long nerve that has multiple branches reaching the heart, the stomach, the liver, and the genitals. When stress causes the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands, the vagus nerve may cause excessive secretion of acid by the stomach. Very few cases of peptic ulcer disease are actually caused by stress, however, because most people have some degree of damage to the vagus nerve by midlife. Diabetes can cause neuropathy of the vagus nerve that reduces the secretion of stomach acid, and makes the stomach a more favorable environment for Helicobacter.
What Are the Symptoms of Peptic Ulcer Disease?
Peptic ulcer disease commonly causes a gnawing and burning pain over the stomach. This pain starts shortly after eating and lasts 2 or 3 hours, as the meal is being digested. When the ulcer is in the stomach, eating more will relieve the pain, since food absorbs stomach acid. When the ulcer is in the duodenum, food and acids won’t help. Duodenal ulcers can cause intense pain at night. When the pancreas is also involved, there may be pain that radiates to the back.
Many but not all people who have peptic ulcer disease experience bloating, belching, heartburn, stomach distension making a pot belly without weight gain, and chest discomfort. Older people who have ulcers caused by NSAID use may have no symptoms at all. There can also be blood in the stool and anemia, the anemia in turn causing severe fatigue and shortness of breath.
Most people who have peptic ulcer disease have some but not all of these symptoms. Only about 25% of people who present the symptoms of peptic ulcer disease actually have it. And a particular kind of vegetable juice is extremely helpful in treating both gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Cabbage Juice for Peptic Ulcer Disease
In the late 1940s, San Francisco physician Dr. Garrett Cheney believed he had stumbled on a cure for peptic ulcer disease. Following on the work of Army doctors who had successfully treated several hundred members of the armed services for peptic ulcers with cabbage juice, Dr. Cheney believed that cabbage juice must contain a mysterious compound he tentatively named “Vitamin U.”
To see if cabbage juice treatment would be useful in treating women (in World War II, almost all American military personnel were men) and work in a civilian setting, Dr. Cheney selected 13 patients for treatment with cabbage juice rather than with the medications available at the time. These patients included 4 women and 9 men aged 26 to 72. They had had ulcers for 1 week to 6 months. They were asked to drink 500 to 1000 ml (2 to 4 cups) green cabbage juice daily for 1 to 2 weeks. X-rays were taken before and after treatment to ascertain the degree of healing. (Endoscopy did not exist at the time.)
In less than two weeks, 11 of the 13 patients were completely healed of their peptic ulcers, and the other two were significantly improved. As strange as it may seem today, when Cheney was not able to isolate a “vitamin U” from green cabbage, he assumed that the beneficial effects of cabbage juice must be due to a “cabbage fat.” In the 1940′s, hundreds of millions of people around the world were still dealing with the effects of fat deprivation, suffering various kinds of skin and digestive diseases caused by not getting enough of what we would now call “bad fats.”
As new medications for peptic ulcer disease were developed in the United States, Dr. Cheney’s cabbage juice cure was largely forgotten. In India, however, the cost of treatment with these drugs was prohibitive. In the early 1980′s, researchers at the Central Food Technology Institute in Mysore and the Basingstoke Central Hospital in Basingstoke teamed with researchers at University Hospital in London to identify foods that were associated with lower rates of peptic ulcer disease. In laboratory experiments with animals, both cabbage and spinach were associated with 70 to 80% reduction in the severity of experimentally induced peptic ulcers.
How does cabbage juice help cure peptic ulcer disease?
Scientists now know that:
- Some of the same compounds that give cabbage its distinctive odor nourish friendly bacteria that help keep peptic ulcer bacteria in check. These isothiocyanates are found in both raw cabbage and cooked cabbage, but they are much more abundant in raw cabbage.
- Cabbage is a good source of the amino acid glutamine, which the kidneys use to help keep the pH of the blood from becoming acidic. Glutamine spares calcium, which helps regulate the nerves that regulate stomach acid.
- Probably most importantly of all, cabbage leaves contain a compound that deactivates the proteinase enzyme that Helicobacter pylori bacteria use to “burrow” into the lining of the stomach.
How to Use Cabbage juice for Peptic Ulcer Disease
It is helpful to drink 500 to 1000 ml (2 to 4 cups) of cabbage juice every day for about two weeks to help get peptic ulcers under control. Once peptic ulcers are in remission, then it helps to drink cabbage juice on a regular basis to help keep them from coming back.
It takes about 1 kilo of cabbage to make 2 liters of cabbage juice. In Imperial measurements, a typical 2-pound head of cabbage sent through a macerating juicer will yield about 8 cups of juice. Freshness is a must. Cabbage loses about 25% of of its isothiocyanates (the bacteria-fighting chemicals) during the first 7 days of storage. If the cabbage has begun to shrivel, much of its isothiocyanate content will be gone.
It’s also important to wait to chop your cabbage until just before juicing. Shredded cabbage loses 75% of its isothiocyanates in just six hours. Shredded cabbage you buy at the market will have essentially none of the healing ingredient.
Most people find 500 to 1000 ml (2 to 4 cups) of cabbage juice to be a lot. There is nothing wrong with adding other flavors to your cabbage juice. Even a dash of red pepper will not make peptic ulcer symptoms worse (although you may not want to do this if you have multiple digestive complaints).
Even if your kitchen is squeaky clean, it helps to add a dash to sea salt to your cabbage juice to prevent the growth of microorganisms. This is not necessary if you drink your juice just as soon as you make it.
And if you get tired of the taste of cabbage juice, it’s OK to add any of the following:
- Daikon radish
- Hot peppers or red pepper in small amounts (Use good judgment!)
- Sweet peppers (fresh, not pickled)
Just to be clear, it is not necessary to use all of these ingredients. Also, it is important to remember that these are additions to cabbage juice, not substitutions for it. Simply add these ingredients to the amount of cabbage you would usually put in your juice, and be sure to drink just a little more juice than normal.
It is always best to divide your consumption of cabbage juice across the day, maybe drinking 1/2 cup (120 ml) of cabbage juice sometime in the morning, sometime in the afternoon, and sometime in the evening, preferably not at meals. This gives you maximum protection against Helicobacter pylori bacteria and the adverse effects of NSAIDs.